Stanford professor emeritus of public policy, Nathan Rosenberg, dies at 87

Sept. 7, 2015, 3:00 p.m.
Nathan Rosenberg was a leading expert on the economic history of technology. (Courtesy of Chuck Painter/Stanford News Service)
Nathan Rosenberg was a leading expert on the economic history of technology. (Courtesy of Chuck Painter/Stanford News Service)

Nathan Rosenberg, Stanford’s Fairleigh S. Dickinson, Jr. Professor of Public Policy, emeritus, died at the age of 87 on Aug. 24. He was best known for his work on the economic history of technology, and his ideas explored the source of technological advancement as well as the role of uncertainty in innovation.

Born in Passaic, New Jersey on Nov. 22, 1927, Rosenberg received his Bachelor’s degree at Rutgers University and his doctorate in economics from the University of Wisconsin. He served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army stationed in Korea from 1945-47 and studied at Oxford as a Fulbright Scholar from 1952-54.

Rosenberg first began working at Stanford in 1974, and starting in 1976, he spent two years as the director of the Program on Values, Technology and Society. From 1983-86, he was chair of the department of economics, and for the rest of his career, Rosenberg led the Technology and Economic Growth Program at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research. He retired in 2002.

One of Rosenberg’s most influential books was titled “Inside the Black Box” and examined the roots of technological progress. When addressing the role of uncertainty in innovation, he spoke about how creators themselves cannot predict how their inventions will be used.

Rosenberg received several awards for his work and was an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences.

In 1996, Rosenberg received the Leonardo da Vinci Medal from the Society for the History of Technology for having “almost single-handedly changed the way economists and economic historians think about technology and the nature of technological change.”

In his final years, Rosenberg suffered from memory loss and was placed under hospice care at the end of his life. He is survived by his wife Rina and their four children.

A funeral service was held in his honor on Aug. 27 at the Los Gatos Memorial Park Cemetery, and the family asks that gifts be made to the American Friends of The Hebrew University.


Contact Kylie Jue at kyliej ‘at’

Kylie Jue '17 was the Editor-in-Chief for Vol. 250. She first became involved with The Daily as a high school intern and now is a CS+English major at Stanford. A senior from Cupertino, California, she has also worked a CS 106 section leader. To contact Kylie, email her at kyliej ‘at’

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